So how did we get here? Since October 1st the government has not granted itself the power to spend money, setting up the “government shut down” that we now face. It has meant that approximately 800,000 employees of the federal government (including my sister Lisa) cannot go to work and are not getting paid. It has meant that none of us can go to a national park like Yosemite or Yellowstone. We can’t apply for Social Security or watch the pandacam at the National Zoo.
It’s become a throwdown between members of Congress, but perhaps it bears looking at the background. The Constitution enumerates the powers of Congress in Article 1. Section 8 states that the Congress shall “have the Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Exercises, to pay the Debts and and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” Section 9 states: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”
Since the 1921 Budget and Accounting Act, the President is required to submit a budget to Congress by February. If Congress passes the budget, it becomes law effective October 1st (the federal fiscal year is October 1st to September 30th). If they change it (ie, make amendments), it goes back to the President for his signature.
For much of the 20th Century this worked, but it began to fall apart toward the end of the century. As a matter of fact, it last worked in 1997. There is an excellent article in the Washington Post on this.
Since then, Congress has passed a series of “continuing resolutions” and “omnibus spending bills” that have continued funding of the government without ever developing a budget for federal spending. During that time Congress has passed all sorts of laws that have required them to spend money, including Medicare Part D.
During the administration of George W. Bush, federal spending increased from $1.86 trillion to $2.98 trillion. Much of it was devoted to national defense after 9/11 and his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
When Barack Obama was elected in 2008 he proposed the Affordable Care Act to expand health care to almost all Americans. It was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. The Republican minority never liked this and pledged to repeal it if they had the chance. In 2012 they gained a majority in the House of Representatives but the Democrats retained the majority in the Senate and President Obama was re-elected in 2012.
Any law that is passed can be repealed, but since both the Senate and the President support the ACA, this won’t happen. The crux of the current government shut down lies in this: the Republican majority in the House of Representatives refuses to entertain a budget or pass a continuing resolution to keep the government funded unless the ACA is “defunded.” By defunding it they essentially say that whether it’s the law of the land or not, Congress will not pay for it. This has the effect of blocking the law without repealing it.
It’s a misuse of their power. Whenever Congress passes a law they make a pledge that they will pay for it, in much the same way I promise to pay for anything I charge on my credit card. By defunding a bill that was legally passed they are no better than someone who takes out a credit card with no intention of paying for what they buy.
It’s time for us to get angry and demand accountability. I understand that the Republican majority in Congress doesn’t like the ACA, but I didn’t like the Patriot Act [sic]. That doesn’t mean that I wanted Speaker Nancy Pelosi to shut down the government and put 800,000 people out of work until it was repealed.
The government needs to go back to work and the Republicans need to understand that they don’t get to hold the rest of us hostage.